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8 December 2010

Protesters demand halt to opencast coal mining in Bangladesh

PROTESTERS VOICED their anger at Global Coal Management Resources Ltd (GCM), outside the mining company's annual general meeting (AGM) in central London on 6 December. The focus of the protest was GCM's aim to develop one of the world's largest opencast coal mines in Phulbari, northwest Bangladesh.

Manny Thain

Clearly nervous at the attention, they locked themselves into the building. GCM then announced the AGM's 'success' at 11.46am - just three-quarters of an hour after it was due to start!

If this project goes ahead, up to 120,000 people will be displaced and vital food-producing land will be destroyed in a country where there is widespread hunger. On top of this, water access of tens of thousands of people will be cut while the risk of pollution to existing water sources will be greatly increased. A huge area of mangroves, which play a critical role in controlling extreme weather event devastation, will also be severely damaged.

There is mass opposition to this project. This came to a head when over 70,000 people demonstrated in Phulbari in August 2006 against the same plan by Asia Energy - as GCM was known at the time.

Paramilitary forces opened fire on that demonstration killing three young people. But the determination of that campaign and of its supporters internationally, forced Asia Energy out of Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh Awami League went on to win the subsequent general election in 2008 promising to protect the interests of the people in Phulbari.

Enjoying a massive majority, the government then broke its word. Once again, however, the government is being pushed back by the strength of the campaign - which recently organised a long march through Bangladesh. (See Socialist Party website's interview with the leader of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports - posted on 18 November.)

The protest in London was organised by the London branch of that campaign and its speakers were supplemented by other eye-witness reports, the London Mining Network campaign group, and the Socialist Party, among others.

GCM's plan is to ruthlessly exploit the resources of Bangladesh, exporting massive profits while leaving devastation in its wake - a new colonialism.

What is clear is that the company does not like to be put under the spotlight, as it was by the London protest. The campaign continues, as does the Socialist Party's solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Bangladesh.